Kicking competition getting critical

With just two days remaining in their final spring minicamp, the 49ers still are saying they plan to take only two kickers to training camp in July. And that makes every kick increasingly critical the rest of this week for Jose Cortez, Jeff Chandler and Jamie Rheem, whom special teams coach Bruce DeHaven said Tuesday still are locked in a virtual "dead heat."


It pretty much has been that way since last Wednesday, when the trio of kicking contenders returned to the team's Santa Clara facility to resume a close competition that began at April minicamp one week after the Niners had selected Chandler in the fourth round of the NFL draft.


"They've all been kicking well and it's still pretty much a dead heat," DeHaven said. "We came through the first minicamp and they were in a dead heat then, too. Not much has changed. In a competitive situation, that's encouraging. Those guys know that there's a good chance that one of them might go, and they're all kicking well. You hope that's a problem you have."


All three kickers each made five of six field-goal attempts Tuesday, beginning at the 36-yard line and moving backward with each kick out to 60 yards. Cortez and Rheem both made their 60-yard attempts, with Rheem's bouncing over the crossbar. Cortez's might have been good from 65 yards.


This continued an impressive – and successful – performance from each kicker that began when the competition resumed at last week's passing minicamp (the kickers did not attend the May 22-24 minicamp for rookies and selected free agents). The three kickers began last week's minicamp on May 29 by making a combined 26-of-27 field goals, with Cortez recording the only miss from 53 yards.


Who has the edge?


"Not really anybody," DeHaven said. "Actually, if you're standing there watching the flight of the ball and how the ball is coming off their foot, you'd probably say that Jose is maybe kicking the best."


Since the Niners spent a fourth-round pick on Chandler, it is virtually certain he has a ticket to training camp. That would suggest the competition for the other training camp berth is between incumbent Cortez and Rheem, the two kickers who competed in training camp last year before Rheem's hamstring injury virtually ended that battle.


"You know, I'd rather avoid that question," said DeHaven, who then proceeded to answer it. "If you're looking at the situation where – and Jamie knows this – Jamie has more to prove than the other two. We expended a reasonably high draft choice on Jeff Chandler, so you know he's going to get a very good look. Jose was our kicker last year, and kicked exceptionally well and won some ball games for us early. So he's got some history with us. The guy that's probably got some greater odds to overcome to make this team probably is Jamie, and he knows that."


Coach Steve Mariucci said the competition still isn't over yet. And the chance remains it could continue beyond this week.


"That has yet to be determined," Mariucci said. "They're still fighting it out to see who's going to get invited to camp. And all three are in the running right now. It would be a little unusual to take three kickers into camp. I don't think we've ever done that before. But it's possible."


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